Onto the Field of Dreams

This week, spring brings the opening of youth baseball and softball season. Hundreds of little leagues will give thousands of kids the chance to hit, run and score.

I’m coaching again, and, accordingly, some youngsters will be suffering again. I’m the perfect combination of intensity and cluelessness. The heart of a champion and the skill of a benchwarmer.

When my middle school baseball coach told me I’d never get to play but that I could still be on the team, I accepted his offer.

“Playing is over-rated,” I likely reasoned at the time. “Practice is where character is born.”

Today, I tell my players and their parents that I “draft for character.” Truth is, I’m not sure we would look much different if I drafted for skill.

Baseball talent is about as easy to evaluate as figure skating. You know if they fall down. Beyond that, it takes a Scott or Josh Hamilton to tell a difference.

Which makes the youth baseball tryout and draft process all the more comical. Twenty-five grown men spending four hours studying how well nine-year-olds field ground balls.

Then, two nights later, gathering in an obscure motel conference room to make their selections. Spreadsheets and algorithms humming in the background.

The intensity is completely justified, I might add. Two months’ worth of self-esteem is riding on these draft picks.

Online fantasy baseball limits ridicule to a small circle of friends. Youth coaching puts one’s knowledge and skills on display for an entire community to see – or at least a batch of local grandparents.

Speaking of grandparents, I am beginning to understand why they love these games so much. There is something mesmerizing, even intoxicating, about watching one’s offspring execute a force out. Oh, the joy of producing the Chosen One who stopped the evil base runner from advancing.

My father loves to tell the story of the time he instructed a player to take “right field.”

“Coach?” the kid queried. “Is that your right or my right?”

My favorite story is the time I told a player to get the catcher gear on. Five minutes later, I found him fully armored but standing next to me near the dugout. All the other players had taken the field.

Through his mask he asked, “Where do you want me, Coach?”

“Catcher, son. Catcher.”

I like a man who makes no assumptions.

The assumption-free atmosphere is what makes youth sports so enjoyable. It’s why the Little League World Series makes such good TV. No contracts, no endorsements, no pouting prima donnas.

Sure, the entitlement mentality creeps in from time to time. But for the most part, it’s just innocent kids trying to find their way home, energetic children trying to get the bad guys out.

It’s still the age where the game ball is more memorable than the final score. The concession stand candy lineup matters more than its batting counterpart. I’ll try to remember this when we finish with 7 wins, 7 losses and 5th place in the tournament.

I would like to win a championship one day. That trophy would look nice in my office. But it would not outshine the faces of dozens of kids who allowed me the thrill of leading them onto the field of dreams.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

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5 Responses to “Onto the Field of Dreams”


  1. 1 Gini Dawson Moonshower March 19, 2014 at 12:53

    KT-

    Love this thoughtful perspective. Your passion an enthusiasm are as contagious as ever, old friend! Thought of you last week when I went to watch the Bruins at the state tournament. Hope all is well with your family!

    Gini

  2. 2 Matt Diana March 19, 2014 at 15:48

    Kevin,

    One of your best. Brought back memories of my coaching days. Baseball is the toughest of all youth sports to coach.

    Best Regards,

    Matt Diana

  3. 3 mrdonnigeria March 19, 2014 at 17:54

    Your post will not let me post anything. I wanted to post something on that wonderful article

    dad

  4. 4 Zack Stroup March 19, 2014 at 21:23

    KT,

    I enjoyed this post. Well done.

    Zack

  5. 5 jessestroup March 20, 2014 at 15:57

    I laughed, envisioned, and laughed more.  Character and fun!  Way to choose.  Thanks Kevin,

    Jesse

      Jesse R. Stroup Director of Spiritual Care Lifeline Chaplaincy 511 N. Akard suite 202 Dallas, TX 75201 jessestrouplive@yahoo.com


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